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Chuck Schumer Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Poised to Deliver Infrastructure Win for Biden’s Agenda

The mammoth bill is packed with benefits for numerous industries and regions.

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate is heading toward passage this week of a $550 billion infrastructure bill that would provide the biggest infusion of federal spending on public works in decades and mark a major milestone for President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

The Democratic and Republican senators who negotiated the plan spent the weekend haggling over last-minute details and combing through the 2,702-page bill text before submitting it to the full Senate Sunday night. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it would pass “in a matter of days.”

“In the end, the bipartisan group of senators have produced a bill that will dedicate substantial resources to prepare, maintain and upgrade our nation’s critical infrastructure,” Schumer said.

The legislation, finished after weeks of negotiations, would ultimately touch Americans across the country, with broad subsidies for roads they drive on, water they drink and the electrical grid powering their homes and businesses. The mammoth bill is packed with benefits for numerous industries and regions.

“Every senator can look at bridges and roads and need for more broadband, waterways in their states, seaports airports, and see the benefits, the very concrete benefits, no pun intended, of this legislation,” Maine Senator Susan Collins, one of the GOP negotiators, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

It includes about $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, $73 billion of power grid upgrades, $66 billion for rail and Amtrak, and $65 billion for broadband expansion. It also provides $55 billion for clean drinking water and $39 billion for transit.

One provision that faced intensive lobbying provides for low-cost internet access plans as part of the massive broadband package, but in a nod to the telecom industry it includes a clause making clear that the bill doesn’t authorize the government to set prices.

There are also numerous energy provisions subsidizing everything from nuclear power plants to carbon capture and storage, electric buses, charging stations and battery recycling, also heavily lobbied by industry groups.

But Biden’s broader climate agenda, such as a clean energy standard and electric vehicle tax credits, isn’t in the bill. Those proposals still need the backing of West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and every other Democrat as part of a follow-on package with the rest of Biden’s economic agenda totaling as much as $3.5 trillion over a decade.

The bill will be paid for largely by the equivalent of raiding the federal budget couch cushions for cash. Democrats were unwilling to cut much spending elsewhere, while Republicans early on declared a “red line” against Biden’s plans to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Biden in turn nixed early talk of raising the gas tax or imposing a tax on electric vehicles.

Offsets include such items as selling off billions of dollars worth of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve starting in 2028, tapping assorted unspent Covid-19 relief accounts, extending some budget cuts from 2030 to 2031 and delaying a never-implemented prescription drug rebate rule under Medicare.

One item that has drawn fierce opposition in recent days would extend some tax reporting rules to cryptocurrency brokers -- a move the bipartisan group is counting on to raise tens of billions of dollars, but the specifics of which drew a rebuke Sunday from Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden.

Republicans are calling for an open amendment process, which could lead to dozens of votes over several days. Several Republicans spoke out against the cost of the plan, with Utah Senator Mike Lee saying a vote should be delayed until after the Senate’s August recess to give lawmakers more time to review the bill.

“It took them four months, shouldn’t we at least have a month or two?” Lee said on the Senate floor.

Still, senators of both parties said they expected the legislation ultimately would pass without major changes.

“Neither side got everything they wanted,” Mitt Romney, Utah’s other senator and one of the GOP negotiators, said on the Senate floor. “The American people have been waiting one president after another after another saying, ‘Let’s improve our infrastructure,’ and it just doesn’t get done. This time we have.”

Seventeen Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted last week with all Democrats and two independents in a crucial procedural step to move the legislation forward.

Schumer said the Senate would immediately turn to a budget resolution setting up a procedure known as reconciliation, which will allow Democrats to pass the bulk of Biden’s agenda without facing a filibuster by Republicans.

Schumer has committed to moving both the infrastructure bill and the budget resolution in tandem in order to keep the Democrats’ progressive and moderate wings in the House and Senate unified.

The budget framework, which will enable a later bill including spending on child care, education and paid leave as well as tax increases for the wealthy and corporations, would require every Democratic vote in the Senate, where the parties have a 50-50 split and a tie-breaker in Vice President Kamala Harris. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi can spare the loss of only three Democratic votes.

However, Manchin and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have expressed reservations about the $3.5 trillion price tag currently being discussed, while progressives including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warn that she and her allies have enough votes to sink the infrastructure plan if their priorities aren’t addressed in the budget package.

“We can’t just have one body driving the entire legislative agenda for the country,” Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Pelosi has said she won’t bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the floor until the Senate acts on the follow-on Democratic budget package.

--With assistance from Erik Wasson.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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